The East Region of the 2021 NCAA Tournament continues with a very interesting matchup between Maryland and Alabama for a spot in the Sweet 16. As the Terrapins look to re-establish themselves as a Tournament power, they now have to get past a red-hot Crimson Tide squad to make that happen.
Alabama only had a one-point halftime lead against Iona in their Tournament opener on Saturday but outscored the Gaels 35-23 in the second half. As for Maryland, the Terps needed a couple of late defensive plays to hold off UConn, who outscored them 32-30 over the final 20 minutes. The Tide look for their first trip to the Sweet 16 since 2004, while Maryland was last there in 2016.
East Region: No. 10 Maryland (17-13) vs. No. 2 Alabama (25-6)
Time: Monday, March 22 at approximately 8:45 p.m. ET
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse (Indianapolis)
Spread: Alabama -5.5
Keys for Maryland
Guard Eric Ayala was the man against UConn as he led all scorers with 23 points, hit 8-of-14 shots from the field (3-of-5 from 3-point range), and also pitched in five rebounds, three steals, and two assists. He continues to have the hot hand for the Terrapins. Forward Donta Scott also played a key role, as he had some crucial blocked shots and rebounds down the stretch to prevent any comeback attempt by the Huskies. He also had 12 points.
Guards Aaron Wiggins, Darryll Morsell, and Hakim Hart combined for 27 points, 17 rebounds, and nine assists. The only glaring stat for the Terps is that their bench contributed a grand total one point and one board. Both came courtesy of forward Galin Smith. Head coach Mark Turgeon knows he needs more bench production against an Alabama team that has several reliable scoring options beyond its starting five.
Keys for Alabama
Against Iona, forward Herbert Jones led the way with a game-high 20 points, to go along with six rebounds and three steals. He's now posted double-figure points in five of his last six games. Jaden Shackelford (10 points), and John Petty Jr. (10) also provided some scoring while the Tide got 23 points off the bench. Nearly half (11) of that came guard Jahvon Quinerly. On the defensive end, Alabama limited the Gaels to 39 percent shooting from the field, 21.7 from 3-point land (5-of-23), and outrebounded them 42-26.
The Crimson Tide have held each of their last three opponents to 40 percent shooting or less. The key will be to keep Ayala from doing too much damage.
Alabama is 1-3 all-time against Maryland but the last time they played was in 2013, a game the Terrapins won. Maryland is 16-2 in its last 18 non-conference games but lost its last matchup against an SEC opponent (LSU, 2019 NCAA Tournament). The Crimson Tide, however, are 1-1 in their last two games against the Big Ten (Penn State in 2018 and '19). For this one, Eric Ayala puts on another stellar performance for the Terps, but Bama has too much firepower and moves to the Sweet 16.
Prediction: Alabama 70, Maryland 65
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He can also be heard on WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.